Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats

sity. The supervision was primarily over the political opinions
of his charges. The difficulties of such a thankless job can easily
be imagined. That Lobatchewsky contrived to send in his
reports day after day and year after year to his suspicious
superiors without once being called on the carpet for laxity in
espionage, and without losing the sincere respect and affection
of all the students, says more for his administrative ability than
do all the gaudy orders and medals which a grateful Govern-
ment showered on him and with which he delighted to adorn
himself on state occasions.
The collections in the University Museum to all appearance
had been tossed in with a pitchfork. A similar disorder made the
extensive library practically unusable. Lobatchewsky was
commanded to clean up these messes. In recognition of his
signal services the authorities promoted him to the deanship of
the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, but omitted to appro-
priate any funds for hiring assistance in straightening out the
library and the museum. Lobatchewsky did the work with his
own hands, cataloguing, dusting, and casing, or wielding a mop
as the occasion demanded.
With the death of Alexander in 1825 things took a turn for
the better. The particular official responsible for the malicious
persecution of the University of Kazan was kicked out as being
too corrupt for even a government post, and his successor
appointed a professional curator to relieve Lobatchewsky of his
endless task of cataloguing books, dusting mineral specimens,
and deverminizing stuffed birds. Needing political and moral
support for his work hi the University, the new curator did
some high politics on his own account and secured the appoint-
, ment in 1827 of Lobatchewsky as Rector. The mathematician
was now head of the University, but the new position was no
sinecure. Under his able direction the entire start was reorga-
nized, better men were brought in, instruction was liberalized
in spite of official obstruction, the library was built up to a
higher standard of scientific sufficiency, a mechanical workshop
was organized for making the scientific instruments required hi
research and instruction, an observatory was founded and
equipped - a pet project of the energetic Rector's - and the vast